Perhaps it was a coincidence that the Lakers introduced new head coach Mike D’Antoni at a press conference this afternoon at the same time the announcement came across that DirecTV would finally come on board with the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes.
Or maybe not.
But why it took DirecTV, which has nearly 2 million subscribers in Southern California, all of October and half of November to reach the agreement — after cable operators such as Charter and Cox and telco companies like Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse came aboard — is a matter of frustration and scrutiny among its customers, or even former customers who have since switched providers out of panic.
Regardless, DirecTV launched TWC SportsNet on Channel 691 this afternoon — right next to the FSW and Prime Ticket channels, covering the D’Antoni press conference — and the Spanish-language Deportes on Channel 458. Both are in time for the Lakers’ game Friday against Phoenix. D’Antoni says he will coach his first game for the Lakers on Sunday from Staples Center against Houston.
Sources at both DirecTV and TWC refused to elaborate on the terms agreed upon or provide any background on the talks after weeks of somewhat sniping in the media as to why each stood by their principles, accusing the other of things such as price gouging or hypocritical business practices.
“I don’t think it was really about the coaching change, because the die was cast over the summer when the team got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” said Ed Desser, the president of Desser Sports Media in Santa Monica who negotiated the Lakers’ 20-year, $3.6 billion deal with TWC nearly two years ago.
“The coaching news may have reminded everyone just how high-profile this team is. It’s an indication of the power and importance this team has in this market.”
DirecTV chief content officer Dan York said only this of why the deal finally happened: “We appreciate our customers’ patience and are happy to have arrived at an outcome that benefits everyone involved. We know that our customers will enjoy the great programming of these three franchises for many years to come.”
El Segundo-based DirecTV, despite its business plan to be sports-heavy with its customer base, had been balking at the reported $3.95 per subscriber per month fees and how the rising costs of local sports TV deals continues to reach a tipping point with subscribers.
DirecTV continues to be in negotiations to carry the new Pac-12 Network, which has delivered several exclusive USC and UCLA football games this season and already has had Trojans and Bruins basketball games missed for its subscribers. The reported cost for the channel is 90 cents per subscriber.
Dish Networks remains the lone major holdout in picking up the TWC SportsNet and Deportes channels, but because of its head-to-head competition with DirecTV, it may not be that compelled to sign up and choose to stay away to differentiate itself.
Desser said he presumed DirecTV budgeted for the TWC SportsNet and Deportes channels when it was announced months ago and “so this was all about just negotiating the best deal that they could — and doing so before they lost an unacceptable large number of subscribers.
“What it says is that DirecTV isn’t abdicating its position in the sports business and, as things in the industry evolve, that’s a pretty good strategic place to be.
“It boils down to the fact their competitors are carrying the services, they have the same cost structures to deal with, so that’s a justification for opting in versus opting out. The flip side is that DirecTV lacks what the others have as a data business and telephone business – they can’t afford like they can to make their video business a loss leader.”